No rush: Bob Goodlatte waits for heads to cool on heated legislation

Bills won’t advance without a consensus

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The Senate, supposedly Capitol Hill’s more deliberative body, could take a lesson from Bob Goodlatte.

Instead of racing bills out of committee and onto the floor for a vote, the Virginia Republican and chairman of the House Judiciary Committee argues that he takes time to try to build consensus on issues such as immigration reform and an Internet sales tax.

His committee’s jurisdiction is vast. It spans from the interests in Hollywood on copyright, to Silicon Valley on privacy, immigration and patent-related policies, to Wall Street on the government’s treatment of derivatives and antitrust issues, to Main Street-oriented issues across the nation, covering both large and small retailers on interstate tax issues.

Mr. Goodlatte, 61, also is the House’s main gatekeeper on immigration reform. House Speaker John A. Boehner, Ohio Republican, has designated Mr. Goodlatte as the point man on the issue, and any broad measure will have to go through his committee before it is passed.

“I’ve worked with the House of Representatives for 25 years, and it’s hard to remember a time when there were so many important issues before the Judiciary Committee at once,” said John Sampson, a lobbyist for Microsoft. “Chairman Goodlatte has always worked across lines to bring people together to work out tough issues. He really is the right leader for the committee at a critical time.”

A lawyer by training, Mr. Goodlatte isn’t interested in the headlines as much as he is the policy. He is rarely seen in front of the cameras touting the Republican talking points of the day, preferring to keep his profile low and to engage with his constituents and various parties affected by his committee’s proposals.

Since taking over the Judiciary Committee last year, Mr. Goodlatte has changed the way it operates. He sets principles for legislation and then holds numerous hearings to thoroughly vet the issue before introducing any bills. The pace of his methodical procedure can frustrate some, but the chairman makes no apologies.

“We want to make sure that we produce good quality legislation that has as much consensus as we can develop, and I think the way to do that is to get more dialogue, more discussion going about the issues,” Mr. Goodlatte said in an interview with The Washington Times. “Sometimes, rather than focus initially on legislation, it’s important to focus on what it is we want to accomplish.”

To that end, Mr. Goodlatte has established seven principles for how his committee will evaluate the Marketplace Fairness Act, a hotly contested bill that would determine how states could tax online sales. It has passed the Senate but has run into opposition in the House.

Earlier this year, the House set forth seven principles on which it would evaluate immigration reform. Both bills — the Internet tax bill and comprehensive immigration reform — were pushed through the Senate despite substantial opposition from the Republican minority, something Mr. Goodlatte said he wants to avoid even if it takes time.

“Chairman Goodlatte is incredibly disciplined,” said Rep. Trey Gowdy, the South Carolina Republican who chairs the Judiciary panel’s immigration and border security subcommittee. “If you don’t know where you’re trying to go, you’re assured of never arriving. It’s more important to him to get it right than to do it quickly.”

Immigration reform advocates say Mr. Goodlatte is in no hurry and the Judiciary Committee won’t pass immigration reform this year, if at all.

“The best way for a good bill to pass this year is for the president to use his legal authority to reduce deportations and expand protections for illegals,” said Chris Newman, general counsel for the National Day Laborer Organizing Network, which is advocating comprehensive immigration reform. “That would compel House Republicans to come to the table in good faith.”

Democrats on the committee also have voiced frustration. Rep. Sheila Jackson Lee of Texas in one of the overwhelming number of House Democrats who have signed the “discharge petition” created by House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi of California to force a floor vote on the Senate’s comprehensive immigration reform bill passed in June. It was a mostly symbolic act designed to air frustration with the process because House Democrats knew they couldn’t get the 218 signatures they needed without Republican help.

“With Republicans continuing to block a vote on bipartisan comprehensive immigration reform legislation, I took action to force a vote,” Ms. Jackson Lee said in a March statement. To date, 191 Democrats, including all 17 who serve on the Judiciary Committee, have signed the petition.

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About the Author
Kelly Riddell

Kelly Riddell

Kelly Riddell covers national security for The Washington Times.

Before joining The Times, Kelly was a Washington-based reporter for Bloomberg News for six years, covering the intersection between business and politics through a variety of industry-based beats. She most recently covered technology, where her reports ranged from cybersecurity to congressional policymakers.

Before joining Bloomberg, she was a management consultant and ...

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